The rollout of the new United Airlines MileagePlus program for 2012 saw several tiers of elites getting their benefits slashed – from a 50% cut in bonus redeemable miles for many Premier Executive flyers to the loss of Economy Plus at the time of booking for Premiers – and the carrier also downgraded travel benefits for company retirees.
An article appeared in the Chicago Tribune earlier this month noting that management at United Continental will implement a new Pass Travel program for retirees come January 1, 2012. Previously, retirees of United received unlimited travel passes with a boarding priority higher than that of current employees. Over at Continental, their system gives preference to active employees.
As with most policies it seems of late, Continental’s system won out and current United retirees are angered. According to a retiree website, a complaint was filed with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) alleging UAL has unfairly discriminated against active employees over 40 and retirees based on age, by retroactively taking away “no cost, earned benefits”. More on the age discrimination part in a moment, but first, here is United’s response to the Tribune:
The carrier also carefully calls retiree flight perks “a privilege,” but did throw them a bone and will provide eight one-way vacation passes per year with the higher boarding priority that trumps current employees. They will also still receive unlimited travel, but at the now lower boarding priority. Some critics are saying that’s not enough, stating they’re not getting the travel benefits promised to them at retirement. Some are further pointing to the fact they took pay and vacation cuts, reduced pensions, lost stock options and went through furloughs during United’s more turbulent years all because they knew they could travel upon retirement.
As a point of perspective, the article mentions American Airlines groups current and retired employees together and simply orders boarding priority by the time of check-in. I did a quick Google search, but didn’t find specifics for Delta… does anyone know how they handle retirees?
Now I’ll get to the part where I’ll likely get some hate comments & email. First, I’ll agree it hurts when a published benefit gets changed. We get it on the revenue side, too, and many of us have vested our flying in one carrier for years – 23 in my case.
Next I should mention that I worked for United for a time during the 1990s when employee ownership was around. I was a short-timer, so didn’t even come close to the minimum 10-years of service required before retiree benefits would kick in, nor did I opt-in to ownership (or maybe it was automatically deducted from my pay as I was in management, but don’t remember what happened to it when I left).
Now, though, let me offer my disagreement with the outrage. I think filing a complaint with the EEOC is unfounded, particularly from an age discrimination standpoint. United is still offering pass travel benefits to retirees, though the terms have changed, so I don’t understand the basis of the complaint.
Would this be akin to we customers filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau over our benefit reductions? We have the freedom to switch carriers if we’re not happy, yes, but is there any part of the Pass Travel program that specifically calls out that retiree benefits would never change?
Also, while it’s free to the retiree, there is indeed a cost to the carrier for the extra fuel burn with the added weight and catering should it be consumed. When I worked for United, the forward cabins were only catered to planned load and it was common for employees to only get Business class if they listed for First and there weren’t enough meals.
I’m sure United wouldn’t have made this change if it went against any type of contract entered into with retirees, and if it had, they would likely grandfather in those with such a clause to be in compliance. Change is hard and while I understand the distaste to retirees, I think United is well within its right to modify that program and customer-focused programs as they see fit.